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Supporting Sustainable Communities through Health Impact Assessments

By Katrina Forrest

Poor health is not only physically and emotionally taxing for individuals, but there are important economic implications—these include increased costs to the healthcare system associated with the diagnosis and treatment of chronic conditions and lost time and productivity in the workforce.  While access to quality healthcare is without question a necessity, prevention is key.

Research indicates that there are a myriad of factors outside of the traditional health scope that shape health-related behaviors.  If we are to promote health and prevent disease, we must carefully consider and analyze all of the factors that impact health outcomes.  Economic sectors such as housing, transportation and agriculture can have profound impacts on the health and well-being of individuals and communities and yet these impacts are often not sufficiently evaluated.

As the District of Columbia continues to grow, with new development projects emerging every day, it is imperative that we assess how these projects positively or negatively affect the health of our residents.  By utilizing health impact assessments, we are able to better understand and identify the potentially significant unknown, unrecognized or unexpected health effects of policies, plans and projects across diverse economic sectors.

Health impact assessments rely on quantitative, qualitative and participatory techniques, to determine health impacts, the distribution of those impacts within communities and identify mitigation strategies to address adverse effects.  For example, in Washington State, legislation was enacted in 2007 to require a health impact assessment to examine the impact of a bridge replacement project on air quality, carbon emissions and other public health issues.

Recognizing the value of this tool, Councilmember Grosso introduced the Health Impact Assessment Program Establishment Act of 2015 .  This legislation establishes a health impact assessment program within the Department of Health to ensure that we are properly evaluating the potential health effects of construction and development projects on our residents and the communities they call home.

Implementing this comprehensive approach here in D.C. would help to promote sustainable development, improve and reduce health inequities, encourage cross-sectoral collaboration, and inspire a greater appreciation for public health in the policymaking process.   Grosso is committed to improving the health and wellness of every D.C. resident and this legislation is a critical step to accomplish that goal.

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.



Despite The Streetcar, D.C. Plans To Replace H Street Bridge

The Hopscotch Bridge connects H Street NE to North Capitol Street while crossing over Amtrak tracks behind Union Station. D.C. officials say it will have to replaced within five years. Photo:

The Hopscotch Bridge connects H Street NE to North Capitol Street while crossing over Amtrak tracks behind Union Station. D.C. officials say it will have to replaced within five years. Photo:

It was two years ago that D.C. officials decided to route a planned streetcar line over the H Street Bridge, allowing for a connection to Union Station. But now they say that the bridge will have to be fully replaced within five years, likely forcing the city to reroute the H Street streetcar line it hopes to start running this year.

The 2.4-mile streetcar route runs up and down H Street and Benning Road NE, and in 2011 city officials decided to run streetcars up and over the bridge — colloquially known as the Hopscotch Bridge — in order to connect to Union Station. But officials with the D.C. Department of Transportation say those tracks will be temporary, and will come down when the city starts replacing the bridge within the next three to five years.

"We always knew that this would be a temporary entrance into Union Station," said Nic Nicholson, DDOT's chief engineer, at a D.C. Council hearing on Friday. "At such time as we could coordinate and replace the bridge, we would have a temporary measure for streetcar as we replace the Hopscotch Bridge."

"We're doing the minimal in that track placement to get service going with the full intention of coming back within the next three to five years and replacing the bridge," he added.

During the hearing, Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) worried that the eventual replacement would only lead to more frustration among H Street residents, who have dealt with streetcar-related construction since 2008.

"My feeling and my fear with this project is that if we don't do it in a systemic, laid-out and planned way, I'm afraid that we're going to lose the faith of the people in getting this done right. This is not a great start," he said.

Nicholson said Amtrak's changing plans for an expanded Union Station and a new high-speed rail line complicated DDOT's original expectation that it could punch a hole through the base of the bridge and avoid running the streetcar over it.

"Once Amtrak started planning and revising its master plan to accommodate that, what came into conflict was our initial plans for our connection of streetcars to Union Station," he said.

The DDOT officials said that the Benning Road Bridge over Kingman Lake and the Anacostia River will also have to replaced, but no streetcar tracks have been placed on that portion of the road for a planned connection to neighborhoods east of the river.